In what is perhaps the best episode since the pilot, a wanted man from the Gamma Quadrant named Croden (Cliff DeYoung) kills a Miradorn in self defense following a botched theft attempt. Odo throws Croden in a cell and prepares to release him to the authorities of his home world. "Vortex" is the first episode to deeply examine the unknowns of Odo's mysterious origins, and the result is a powerful character episode that successfully gets into the crux of the constable's loneliness and his quest for people like him.
Croden capitalizes on Odo's loneliness by telling him a number of "Changeling tales" that may or may not be part of his web of dissembling lies—hoping to take advantage of the constable's Achilles heel. Cliff DeYoung effectively forces our perception of the situation to remain in stagnant neutrality between Croden and Odo. DeYoung brings a sense of ineptitude to his character's criminal activities that makes his motives seem as sincere as they later turn out to be—but without totally winning our trust in the meantime. What also works, surprisingly enough, is an action subplot involving the dead Miradorn's vengeful twin brother Ah-Kel (Randy Oglesby) chasing after Croden and Odo's Runabout to kill his brother's murderer.
Most of this works because of the extremely high quality of the production. The special effects are outstanding, as Odo and Croden attempt to elude Ah-Kel by traveling through a dangerous, volatile vortex that looks really neat. The conclusion, which uncovers all the reasons behind Croden's lies and deceit—his need to retrieve his hidden daughter from a planet in the vortex—is a touching sentiment.
When all is said and done "Vortex" is an episode that works wonders on many levels. There are interesting suppositions about Odo's origin with engrossing character impacts, a good action plot, terrific production values, interesting performances, and affecting drama. Highly recommended.
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